Georgia – Confrontation in the ruling party and the former Prime Minister’s return to politics  

Georgia’s current Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikshvili, noted at a special briefing on April 24, 2018 that Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister and founder of the ruling party “Georgian Dream”, is coming back to politics. Kvirikashvili said that Ivanishvili was asked to return to politics because the party needs to be renewed. “On behalf of my team and the whole team I personally requested the founder of our party to lead the party and I am glad that Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili has agreed.” [1]

Ivanishvili’s return was preceded by a controversy within the parliamentary majority. This followed a statement from one of its deputies against the appointment of an opposition candidate to the board of the Public Broadcaster of Georgia by the ruling majority. The statement was criticized by the speaker of parliament and was followed by a confrontation between different groups within the majority over several days. Bidzina Ivanishvili left politics in 2013[2], but he said then that he would come back if the government was not listening to the people.[3] Apparently, Ivanishvili now thinks it is time to return. On May 11 he was elected as the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

In fact, Bidzina Ivanishvili never went away. He has always ruled the Georgian Dream and important political decisions were not taken without him. The representatives of the majority spoke openly about it and did not hide the fact that they consulted him. It is true that Ivanishvili did not like being a public figure. He had no prior experience of politics before becoming prime minister and he did not feel comfortable in this space. That is why he formally left politics, but he managed events from behind the scenes. This led to talk of a system of ‘informal governance’ both in the country and the international arena.

The parliamentary majority is not united around concrete values, nor is it based on a specific ideological platform. The only factor they have in common is Bidzina Ivanishvili himself. This is one of the reasons why Ivanishvili decided to return, but from his speech at the congress suggested he was not happy doing so.

At the party congress, Ivanishvili said that he returned because he recognised the problems that the country still faced after 6 years of the Georgian Dream coalition: the socio-economic condition; political opponents; and party problems. With the opposition talking about uniting and with Georgian Dream having a very low level of trust in the society, Ivanishvili’s return is a way of increasing the chances of the party’s success in the presidential election and ensuring the continuation of the party’s position in power. His return is also an attempt to renew the ruling party, even though at the party congress there was no talk of changing the party’s policies. Moreover, even with his return as party chair, questions about informal governance have not been removed. Political power lies formally with the Prime Minister.

The upcoming presidential election is important even though the president has limited powers in the current constitution. In 2018, the president will still be chosen by the people for a term of six years. An opposition victory in the presidential election would be a significant event. In this context, Ivanishvili may stand as a presidential candidate, which would increase the ruling party’s chances of winning.

Everyone understands that despite the low trust in Georgian Dream, it will only be defeated if the opposition is united. However, the opposition is very weak. A single opposition candidate is unlikely and the ruling party will also try to increase the divisions among the the opposition. At the same time, current president’s position is also very important. President Margvelashvili has not officially announced that he will stand for re-election, but his recent speeches suggest that he is going to take part in the elections and some opposition parties have said that they will support his candidacy. However, this does not necessarily increase the chances of a unified opposition candidate. 

A victory by the opposition would be a step forward for Georgian democracy. However, if the Georgian Dream candidate wins, the future president should distance himself/herself from the ruling party as President Margvelashvili has done. This would help ensure a balance of power and also help the development of Georgian democracy.

Notes

[1] Bidzina Ivanishvili Returns to Politics, 04-26-2018,  http://primetime.ge/news/1524732614-ბიძინიტიკაში-ბრუნდება

[2] Ivanishvili’s Open Letter, 21 November 2013 https://old.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=26708

[3] I am a good spare player, I will return in politics only in the wonders, 2015-07-22 http://www.newposts.ge/?l=G&id=82195

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